What Prison Taught Me About Authentic Customer Experience

My unique journey has profoundly shaped my perspective on how to foster authentic connections and deliver exceptional customer experiences. Put bluntly, I spent nearly 5 years in prison for poor choices in my early adult life. At the time, I thought I knew how the world worked, but really, I was allowing myself to be a careless, selfish, and self-serving person. However, going to prison gave me perspective and it humanized me. It forced me to confront myself and gave me the opportunity to grow into the person I wanted to become.

My time in prison, surrounded by diverse and incredible women from all walks of life, taught me invaluable lessons about the power of human connection, the necessity of honesty, and the importance of seeing and valuing people for who they truly are, beyond their circumstances. These lessons have become the cornerstone of my approach to customer experience (CX), where authenticity, directness, and a relentless pursuit of value and understanding drive our interactions with customers.

Authenticity and Empathy: The Heart of Customer Experience

I believe in cutting through the fluff, getting straight to the point, and fostering a culture of transparency and honesty. I have learned throughout my career that customers appreciate honesty and directness, as it fosters trust, leads to better outcomes, and creates a foundation for strong, long-lasting relationships.

My personal journey has shown me that when providers are transparent, even when things aren’t going as planned, customers feel valued, respected, and more inclined to engage in open and constructive dialogue. This approach not only builds stronger relationships but also positions CX teams as trusted advisors, leading to long-term partnerships, customer loyalty, and mutual success.

Empathy and understanding are also critical components in creating meaningful and lasting customer relationships. By truly understanding our clients’ businesses, the challenges they are facing, and the impacts on their teams, we can have open, honest, and productive conversations. The result? Quicker resolutions, and reduced customer churn.

I have seen firsthand the importance of seeing beyond the surface, understanding the human aspect of business, and building loyalty through genuine care, support, and a commitment to our clients’ success. In fact, it’s often the uncomfortable conversations that yield the strongest outcomes and create a true partnership. The ability to be open with clients about what isn’t working and why is often the difference between your company being just another vendor or becoming a critical component of their business.

Strategies for Integrating Empathy and Understanding

To effectively integrate empathy and understanding into CX strategies, it’s crucial to truly know your clients, honor commitments, and be solution-minded. Zendesk reports that 73% of customers state that CX is the number one consideration when making a purchasing decision. To that end, cultivating personalized experiences and ensuring your team is equipped with the right tools and resources are vital components in a winning CX strategy.

This is why we must focus on creating a customer-centric culture, where empathy is a core value, reflected in all aspects of our organization. We should strive to create an environment where our team feels empowered to connect with customers on a human level, understand their needs, and deliver solutions that truly make a difference.

However, it’s crucial that efficiency and productivity be balanced with the need for empathy and understanding. This is why I work with my team to optimize non-customer-facing processes to ensure our teams can dedicate their time to delivering exceptional personalized experiences. We understand that efficiency and effectiveness are different, and striking the right balance is key to achieving effectiveness at scale. We also recognize that efficiency should never come at the expense of empathy and understanding, as these are the building blocks of strong customer relationships.

Empowering CX Teams

In my organization, to encourage our team to approach CX from a place of empathy and understanding, we set clear expectations, lead by example, and focus on teaching emotional intelligence. Creating a culture that enables empathy, encourages open expression, and empowers teams to problem-solve together is vital. We also emphasize the importance of active listening, avoiding assumptions, and seeking out the voices of our customers to inform our internal strategies.

One of our clients, a company with over 30 years in business, was initially resistant to change and new approaches to sales and marketing. However, through consistent recommendations, candid conversations, and a commitment to their success, we were able to help them see the value in change, leading to a significant ROI and a strengthened relationship. In fact, their executive team went out of their way to share feedback with us and thanked us for having the courage to call out the elephants in the room and bring forward the tough conversations. They saw that our team truly cared about their business and recognized that we were willing to place their long-term success above our short-term profit. This experience underscored the importance of honesty, challenging old ways of thinking, and the power of true partnership.

Authentic and Empathetic CX Leadership

For other CX leaders looking to enhance their strategies, my advice is to stay connected, be transparent, and lead by example. Understand your customers’ businesses, challenges, and objectives, and focus on building trust through authenticity and directness. Measure your results, implement customer feedback loops, and always be willing to adapt and improve. Remember, the journey to exceptional customer experience is a marathon, not a sprint, and leading with empathy and authenticity will set you on the path to success.

My unique journey has shaped a customer experience approach rooted in authenticity, empathy, and a relentless pursuit of value. I have seen the impact of delivering exceptional experiences and building long-term partnerships. The future of customer experience lies in the power of human connection, and by embracing and building on these connections, we can create a world of exceptional customer experiences and lasting success.

Ashley McDonald is the Director of CX and Revenue Operations for Televerde, a global revenue creation partner supporting marketing, sales, and customer success for B2B businesses around the world. A purpose-built company, Televerde believes in second-chance employment and strives to help disempowered people find their voice and reach their human potential.